Clocking in at 3 hours, the AP Physics 1 Exam is a difficult test that requires a mastery of physics concepts as well as a strong baseline understanding of algebra and trigonometry. It covers the scientific principles outlined in the AP Physics 1 course units, and expects students to use algebra to solve problems related to Newtonian mechanics, energy, and several other topics.
With practice, however, even the most difficult topics become manageable, and with the right preparation, the exam can be easily conquered for a great score!
What Does the AP Physics Exam Consist of?
The AP Physics 1 Exam consists of 55 questions split into two 90-minute sections.
Section I is a multiple-choice portion that accounts for 50% of your exam score. 45 of the 50 questions in Section I are single select (meaning there is only one correct answer) and the remaining 5 questions are multi-select, where you are required to select two correct answer choices from the four possible answers.
Section II on the AP Physics Exam is a free response segment with a total of 5 questions accounting for the other 50% of your score. Three of these Section II questions are short answers; 1 is an experimental design question and the other is a qualitative, quantitative, or translation question. All five of these multi-part questions require you to show your solutions by writing out your work. Unlike the first section, which is scored by a computer, the second section is graded by high school and college teachers who have guidelines for awarding partial credit.
A table of commonly used equations and constants is provided in the test booklet, and scientific or graphing calculators may be used for the entire exam as long as they don’t have any unapproved capabilities. The College Board Website’s list of approved calculators can be found at this link.
The AP Physics Exam will cover the following units:
- Unit 1: Kinematics
- Unit 2: Dynamics
- Unit 3: Circular Motion and Gravitation
- Unit 4: Energy
- Unit 5: Momentum
- Unit 6: Simple Harmonic Motion
- Unit 7: Torque and Rotational Motion
Is the AP Physics Exam Hard?
The AP Physics 1 Exam is by no means easy, but it can be made manageable with proper practice and preparation. The exam can often be math-intense or abstract, so it is important to establish both strong mathematical and analytical skills before taking on the more difficult physics topics.
AP Physics 1 is an Algebra based course, therefore any calculus steps will be performed for you and de-emphasized, making it a good course for students who are not planning to take calculus until college.
Since the introduction of the Physics 1 test in 2015, 39.8% of test-takers passed, and 4.6% earned a 5. Don’t be repelled by these numbers, however, as there are a number of factors contributing to this percentage, including the novelty of the test and most students’ lack of familiarity with the material as compared with the Physics 2 or Physics C tests.
What Grade Can You Take AP Physics in?
Most students will take the AP Physics exam in 11th or 12th grade, although the right time for you to take the test can vary depending on your experience and familiarity with the material.
Some important questions to ask yourself before taking on AP Physics 1 include: What mathematics have you taken? How did you do? When does your school allow you to take AP Physics 1? What does the school list as its formal prerequisites? and How have you fared in previous science classes? Algebra II is a strict prerequisite for Physics 1, but completing precalculus and trigonometry courses is also highly recommended.
What Is a Good Score on the AP Physics Exam?
A 4 or 5 on the AP Physics exam is an excellent score, but anything above a 3 is passing. A high AP score looks great on college applications, and can even earn your college credit.
The Algebra based Physics 1 & 2 courses are great preparation for college level physics classes. If you will not take calculus before or during your AP Physics class, Physics 1 & 2 are appropriate tests for you.
If you are looking to major in physical science or engineering in college, you might want to consider taking AP Physics C as it is possible that your school of choice will not accept algebra-based physics (depending on your major). Physics 1 & 2 can and should still be taken if you are looking to be a physics or engineering major.
AP Physics Exam Tips
- Practice and review fundamental math skills. A good understanding of basic algebra and trigonometry skills is essential for the Physics 1 Exam. Students should make sure they are able to manipulate basic equations, graph linear equations, and apply trigonometry.
- Use a calculator that allows you to put in constants. This will save you time and energy on exam day as you can have your constants pre-loaded. One such calculator is the CASIO fx-9860GII which is specifically catered for multiple AP courses (not just Physics 1).
- Familiarize yourself with the provided formula sheet. The AP Physics 1 Exam provides you with a full sheet of common formulas and constants. You should practice with this sheet so that you have a mental map of what each equation on the sheet means and when it should be used on the exam. Knowing where equations are physically located on the sheet will also help you find them faster on test day.
- Memorize common physics equations not provided on the formula sheet.
- Review fundamental physics concepts, such as conservations relationships, force of friction and angular momentum
- On the multiple choice problems…draw diagrams for everything! This is especially true for problems involving vectors or force. Practice drawing free body diagrams for as many scenarios as possible.
Final Exam Preparation
To prepare for the AP Physics Exam, students should first determine what they need to study by going through each unit of the AP Physics 1 course, reviewing every single topic, and performing an honest assessment of what they do and do not know. Once students have a good understanding of their existing knowledge, they can then start to hone in on the topics that are less familiar or more difficult.
When studying the course material, it is important to not just review passively by reading over concepts and definitions. Practice problems are your best friend when preparing for AP Physics; the more practice problems you do, the better prepared you will be for the test. The multiple-choice and free-response sections require different skills and strategies, so be sure to devote sufficient time to each question category. Problem sets and practice tests are a good way to both master the material and become familiar with the exam format.
Of course, you should never hesitate to ask for help! At Ivy Tutors Network, our AP Physics tutors are often graduate students at top-tier universities, in medical school, or working towards a PhD in Physics or a STEM Field. Their depth of understanding and passion for Physics have helped countless students understand this sometimes difficult subject from both a conceptual and practical perspective. They can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, keep to a study schedule, and supply practice problems and tests. Whether you need help keeping up in AP Physics class, or want study tips for scoring a 5 on the exam, we’ve got your back!
Study Review Notes and Resources
Albert.io has a large selection of practice multiple choice and free response questions organized by unit/type as well as unit assessments for you to evaluate your progress with important physics content knowledge and skills.
Khan Academy offers a five-section course complete with videos, quizzes and unit tests for all of the topics covered in AP physics. You can also use khan academy to find explanations or resources on specific topics that are giving you difficulty.
For more tips specific to the AP Physics Exam visit the college boards website: